Tales From the Trench

 

As long as we're all back here together, let's catch up on some of what makes our campaigns so great; those moments that can never be forgotten as long as we game. Recent is what I'm looking for… not pining for the days of our campaigns years ago.

For me, it came a few weeks ago in my current campaign. The main villain, a young woman, was created by the PCs. They don't know this of course, nor that she's even a villain. Someone was trying to kill them, as minor NPC bad guys are wont to do, waaaay back at the beginning over a year and a half ago. A crate was dislodged on the docks, intended to crush the PCs while they talked to a minor (and very unimportant) NPC. I sucked at the Listen roll for the NPC to determine where exactly the PCs were and the wrong crate was pushed. It fell towards the NPC and his pregnant wife instead. The PCs failed some rolls to notice this, but the NPC did not (he was very protective of his beautiful and pregnant young wife) and he leapt to push her out of the way. The crate landed on him and killed him. The shove provoked a miscarriage in his wife several days later. She decided fate had turned against her and has since been on a mission to unleash a terribleness on the world that will end all life...period.

Fast forward to a couple sessions ago; the PCs are in another land dealing with an offshoot of her plan. She is there, unbeknownst to them. They foil the evil plan at great expense to themselves (one now has no right hand, another lost an eye, and the third will never be the same though she doesn't know why yet), and find this girl chained to a wall (her dealings with lower planes type things require this for everyone's protection...what she does isn't pretty, as all well done evil shouldn't be). They of course assume she is a captive and rescue her. They take her back with them to a city they operate out of. Most specifically to the library of an ancient order...that she has wanted to access all along to speed her plans along. They brought her to the very meeting where the next stages of their plans were laid out with the major good guy NPCs. When her warlock minions came to rescue her from their ship, the PCs of course thought it was a kidnapping and still have absolutely no idea at all that they've undone most of their success since the beginning of the campaign.

They're even putting their *very important* plan in the hands of others so they can rush off and rescue her again...not that that will matter now that the plan is well known by their enemies, but they won't be there to try and put it right again (nor to maybe realize how the enemies knew about it). Instead, they'll be walking right into the worst place they could possibly go at this point in the campaign in order to "rescue" her again. Along the way, they intend to recover and bring with them something she mentioned that she might need if she's to "help them against this evil" so that they have it right there with them when they "save" her.

I really love my job.

I haven't played in months.

This is great stuff. One thing that I would consider is having the villain show remorse. I have always enjoyed the kind of villain that the characters either respect and hate, or oppose and love.

What I mean is that if the villain gets the upper hand on them and has the opportunity to destroy them, she could let them go. Imagine that her minions have them pinned down. She commands her minions to destroy them, but at the last moment has a change of heart, commands them to stop and take the players out to the edge of town and drop them there. She leaves visibly shaken.

They see her emotion and humanity and the same time as understanding her great capacity for evil. The characters now have a villain who is tied to them. They know that they have to oppose her, but will struggle over whether to destroy her or lead her back to salvation. She saved them, fooled them, humiliated them, and betrayed them all in the same. Perhaps she will even "reach out" to a PC to try and seduce/conscript them.

When she achieves her first goals, she can let it be know that she had allies who she couldn't have done it with out. They brought her the tools to do this great evil. The PC's will be struggling with their association to her. More so because their is an emotional connection. It becomes harder for them to deny their involvement if they are at least a little bit conflicted.

That's great stuff...but there are some particulars about this NPC that make it impossible. She is on a mission to destroy the entire setting. All. Of. It. Not domination or destruction like most villains...true end of everything type stuff. Nothingness is her goal. She's completely emotionless and cares about nothing at all except achieving her end result (teh PCs assume her blank demeanor is just trauma from all the horribleness she's been through in the last year or so...they think she's still in emotional shock). Saving the PCs would be purely illogical as she would just be saving them so they could die horribly later (she assumes of course that her plans will succeed).

The true mercy would be for her to let her minions kill them quickly. And she doesn't care enough one way or the other to be emotionally involved in that outcome. They live or die...she cares not...as long as they don't interfere. In the end of her plan, everyone dies. Including her and her minions.

As far as her humanity, I would just play up the despair and loss that motivates her. In particular use the PCs actions in the event to implicate them somehow. That would accomplish the goal Gil has in mind, I figure.

I've only recently started playing again after a long period of having no one I could force into playing with me :). So no big moments or stories yet, in the single campaign I'm currently running. I really like where it's going and I'm excited to continue it, though, so I should have some good stories soon.

Despair and loss motivated her onto this path (and bitterness...heaps of bitterness). ..but now that she is well down said path there is little humanity left to portray. I appreciate the comments, and I'm sure they'll inspire someone who reads them...but this is a fully developed and fleshed out NPC that doesn't need any changes or tweaking. She's perfect the way she is, and serves both the soft story (all the emotional stuff and whatnots) and the hard story (the narrative imperative that pushes events along in certain places) exactl as I need her to. As to the PCs part in it, they should feel terrible when they learn it's really their fault; I'm leaving that up to them though, whether they put two and two together or not. Creating the main villain wasn't something they (or even I) expected to happen. But will they see that and will it trigger a preplanted emotional cue? That's up to them, really...I'm not going to do anything to push it one way or the other, even subtley. Knowing my players...and their characters...they'll be devestated when they realize.

I'm trying to get people to tell stories, not over-analyse existant (or already told) elements of those stories. Surely someone has *something*. Otherwise I'm going to have to pull out the tale of how the two-weapon fighter in the group lost his right hand to his own stupidity.

lol nice. Well, I have stories from games that I ran quite a while ago, but nothing recent. I thought you were looking for recent stories. If you want older stories, I'll definitely be happy to share...

By recent, I meant "let's not make the new guys think all our best campaigns were in our youth." LOL. I don't care when it happened...just entertain me!

One of the moments I am most proud of as a DM is a time when a little bit of retconning towards the end of the campaign solved a lot of the continuity and story issues with the party, and made it appear as though I had planned the whole thing all along. I was running the game for a group of brand-new players, some with more commitment than others, and I made the mistake of telling them to make whatever kind of character they want, figuring that Tzuriel (as my one experienced "make the party take the plot hook" player) and I could adapt to whatever holes they left. Tzuriel created an awesome ranger character named Asura, with a detailed backstory about his life, family, and witnessing his father killed on a hunting expedition as they became the prey and were slaughtered by a bestial fey hunter and his hounds. Tzuriel's character was on a quest for redemption and restoration of honor, seeking to hunt the being that had killed his father and deliver a similar fate. The rest of party included an amoral mercenary fighter who had previously entered into a pact with a demon to become 'the best sword fighter ever," resisted the demon's influence, and lost most of his memory as a result; a halfling rogue that was indistinguishable from any other halfling rogue in the fantasy genre; a non-committal halfling druid that was mostly just along for the ride; and a half-elf sorcerer prince from a far-off land across the sea who had been defeated in a duel against a powerful evil wizard that destroyed his kingdom and left him for dead in the ocean, washed up on the shore of the continent where the campaign was taking place without any memory of those events, and joined the party literally by running into them several sessions into the campaign in a goblin cavern and was accepted because he looked like a PC. It was pretty typical bad GMing on my part, and as the campaign progressed the reasons and motives for this group of people to stay together were becoming increasingly strained and unrealistic.

We had later decided that the party's dubious origins had began when Asura had accepted a job as a bounty hunter, hunting down the halfing rogue and the mercenary who had killed some people in a major city. They all ended up thrown in prison together somehow and escaped, and Asura stayed with them because he supposedly saw a spark of something good in the two (which they never had the courtesy to demonstrate at all throughout the campaign). The druid and sorcerer fell in at later points.

I concluded there needed to be some sort of story to explain all of this, and so through a series of events the intrepid adventurers came face to face with a group of immortal fey who had taken it upon themselves to keep the forces of nature and magic within balance. Turned out that Asura's father had actually been a member of that group, but had gone rogue for purely selfish reasons, wanting to travel where he wished and do as he pleased rather than being chained down as a fey police officer for eternity. This guy ended up falling in love with a human woman and siring Asura, and felt conflicted with his obligation to his new family and his restless spirit. He had Asura put into a magical stasis so that he could come back after living out his nomadic desires and raise him properly. He did so for centuries, wandering the face of the land hunting and siring children in one-night stands until he eventually returned and raised Asura, never speaking in detail of his mother who had died of old age long before. It was revealed that the demon-pact mercenary, the half-elf sorcerer prince, and Asura the ranger were all half brothers, sons of this fey immortal, and that each had had their immortal heritage mostly snuffed out at different points (the mercenary should have died when he betrayed his demon sponsor, and the sorcerer when he was zapped by the evil wizard, but their fey heritage took the bullet for them, so to speak. Asura's was consumed by the magical sleep that kept him alive and unaged for centuries), the result being that they were now mostly indistinguishable from other mortals of their respective species.

It turned out that their father's wandering exploits and mingling of fey seed with mortals had wreaked massive magical havoc on the land, and that the fey who were now informing the PCs about all this had hunted him for the entire time, trying to contain the damage. They hadn't caught him until he had mostly settled down and had raised Asura almost to maturity, at which point he was brutally hunted and killed. It was a cool and somewhat cruel moment as a GM to reveal to a character that the parent for whom he had been seeking revenge for his whole adult life probably deserved the fate he received, and that his father's killer was standing right before him and pleading for his help. Because, you see, the big bad guy was actually their half-brother too, the youngest of the bunch, and he had been using various magical means to gather his other siblings together and kill them, consuming their power in an attempt to become some sort of uber-powerful fey Megazord. They were the last ones left, and their shared magical heritage had subconsciously brought them together to unite to stop their brother from totally messing the world up in his mad "abandoned child" rampage.

This party had only stayed together throughout the campaign because of an out-of-game understanding which led to in-game concessions to keep the game going, and suddenly there was an in-game explanation for it. And, it looked like I had planned and built up to this reveal since the beginning of the campaign, when in fact I had merely thought of it a few days before the session where the reveal happened.

The end of the story is that the campaign proceeded well right up until the last session, which never happened because of scheduling conflicts that persisted until I left to serve as a proselyting missionary for two years. Pretty typical, right?

One of my favorite funny memories from the same campaign. The campaign was nearing its end, with the PC's gearing up to face this big bad half-brother who had been causing them trouble the whole campaign. One of them had been flipping through the 3.5 Dungeon Master's Guide, and found price ranges and stats for siege weapons on some obscure page there, and decided that he desperately NEEDED to obtain a ballista for use in the upcoming assault on this villain and his small retinue of cultist bodyguards. He inquired around in the small city that had been visited several times during the campaign, and ended up meeting with the royal quartermaster.

Unfortunately for him, this character was not a particularly savvy buyer, nor was he good at concealing his excitement. This city hadn't seen a military conflict of any legitimate size in almost 100 years, and had few political threats that could turn into a larger conflict. As such, the city guard had devolved into more of a police force, and the siege equipment in the city was old, dusty, and dilapidated. The quartermaster completely gouged them, blatantly lying about the city's need for this equipment, and sold them a broken-down, barely functional ballista for almost twice what the DMG suggests a brand-new one would cost. I remind you that they had that very page open (in fact, I asked them to pass me their book so I could read over the info there), and they knew in-character and out-of-character that they were being ripped off. In fact, they were fairly low-level PCs, and two players had to pool their money together to be able to afford it.

At that point I realized how badly these guys wanted to have the ballista, and they did accomplish some cool stuff with it, although in hindsight I should have let it accomplish more than I did. They opened up the next fight by impaling one of the stronger threats through the chest with the thing. They wanted to reload and fire again the next round, but I had to remind them that siege weapons in general weren't designed to hit targets smaller than, you know, city walls, and that they take at least a minute or two to reload, aim, and fire.

It wasn't only funny, I learned a great and important GMing lesson there: Just because your players throw something crazy and stupid you weren't expecting at you isn't grounds to totally stonewall the players and try to keep it from happening. I learned to let go of the game reins a little bit, and see what happens.

Oh, man, I remember all of that. Good times. Asura is one of the best characters I've ever had the pleasure to create, if not the very best. In truth, playing him felt so right at the time that it was almost like he had given me the privilege to play him, and the responsibility to tell his story correctly. I can tell you the many inspirations for the character, but he was one of those special ones that doesn't seem to have any genesis, that just appeared beside you as you walked home on dark suburban streets (I literally did most of his character creation while walking home). It feels way cheesy to say it, but it was an honor to play him, and I hope to have the honor to play similarly deep characters, perhaps even him again someday.

I think players should have a voice here, too. Tell us about your favorite characters, and what it meant to you to play them.

Anyway, I think I have a good story to tell here. My proudest moment as a GM actually involves Lorthyne, too, funnily enough. I was running a heavily (though not heavily enough) modified version of Monte Cook's Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, when I decided to throw a total curveball at the PCs. To play up the theme of encroaching madness and the seduction of evil, I had them all effectively tainted by becoming half-elementals. There were four PCs (one of which I ran to balance things out, though I often let the players dictate his combat actions), so each became a half-elemental of a different element. Tamrael, Lorthyne's character, an older human druid who effectively served as a semi-leader and moral backbone of the party, and who had a crippling fear of fire due to traumatic childhood experiences, became a half water elemental. My character, Ataren, a morally and emotionally stunted elf fighter searching desperately for some sort of foundation became a half air elemental. Aquilla, an elven spellsword (I don't remember the exact class), consumed by guilt and sorrow, and on a quest for some sort of absolution, became a half earth elemental. And Nackle Crackle (the comedic relief of our group), a gnome Beguiler (basically a bard but sneakier and no singing), with a cheerful personality, became a half fire elemental.

But what makes it so cool is less what I did and more how the party responded to it. They discovered something that basically tainted them, though they didn't know it until the next morning, the full transformation happening that night, during which they all suffered from horrifying nightmares (them killing the ones they loved, being slowly destroyed by overwhelming evil, stuff like that), each of which I wrote for and gave to them individually. You can imagine their emotions when they woke, and the group played it to the hilt. If memory serves, Nackle woke first, and quickly discovered her ability to basically conjure fire whenever she wanted, and was totally thrilled. Next Tamrael wakes, sees what Nackle is doing, and effectively panics, thinking they've all been infected with something evil, and runs to the river, water having always been his comfort area, and throws several items of loot that he believes did the deed into the water. Of course, he remains what he has become and just stays by the river, contemplating his possible corruption. Ataren and Aquilla both wake and have quieter moments of discovering what they've become, before the whole group joins Tamrael at the river side. My favorite moment was when Tamrael and Nackle, who'd recently begun to forge a close bond as teacher and pupil, had to face each other, now literally as opposites, especially with Tamrael absolutely terrified of Nackle's newfound abilities. They stare at each other for a long time, then, slowly Tamrael raises his hand, palm outward, and extends it toward Nackle. Also slowly, she does the same thing, and their hands meet, and nothing happens. They simply forge a newfound emotional connection, almost an unspoken pact of brother and sisterhood. It was awesome, particularly because before this the group had traveled together and were fighting this big bad stuff, but it was almost in an impersonal fashion. Typical save the world, this party is together because it is stuff. Without my planning on it, my players took this transformation and used it as a way to bind the party together, and to bind them to the story. Now they were a group, and it was personal.

Awesome. Just goes to show no matter how cool your ideas are, and I'm pretty proud of that one, it all rests on the players shoulders. They took an idea that was cool, and made it one of the very best moments in my roleplaying life. That campaign was chock full of great moments, but I'll tell you some of those another time. Next installment!

In our ongoing campaign we were playing in an epic-level version of Lord of the Iron Fortress that segued into the Rise of the Runelords. Throughout the campaign the characters have maintained a close tie with the Dwarves of the Iron Mountains. When the dwarves were roused to a state of frenzy and desolation by the murder/capture of master smiths from "Steadfasts" all along the "Worldspine"(How Iron Mountains would translate in Dwarven... Geological features share names with anatomy, but that is another story about the etymology of Dwarven language)... the characters investigated.
They tracked the intruders back to the plane(t) of Archeron -- and the Lion's Head Gate. Outside the Lion's Head Gate, they were approached by a she-Dwarf named "Deanni" asking assistance in dealing with the threat of the Iron Fortress. After they successfully infiltrate the fortress and capture the sword they return it Deanni to be destroyed. At this point they have figured out that Deanni is the Wife of Moradin -- The Dwarven God of the Forge. When Deanni offers a weapon crafted by her husband as reward they are mad with glee.

http://www.gamegrene.com/node/1058

The investigate the goings-on in Sandpoint leading up to the festival and are able to divine the impending attack of the Illor. They hunt out some Rook-beasts and soon realize that there is no way the town could survive a conflict with the hideous creatures. They also discover more back-story on Deann, as their is a full shield of her followers in town (for some reason). Considered to be a cult by many tribes of dwarves, followers of Deanni do not engage in money-lending of any sort. Deanni is not a God but an elevated mortal She-Dwarf who won the heart of Moradin when she lead a civil revolt against the church of Moradin who she said had become to preoccupied with money and wealth.
She claimed that the search for the "Earth-Heart" -- a legendary dwarven artifact said to contain the essence of the world -- buried deep within the stone belly of the earth, had made dwarves crave "false-wealth." Later, in another tale she rebuked her husband's pride and to atone for displeasing her, she asked him to give away his fabled hammer to mortal warrior. His gift changed the course of the war, and followers of Deanni point to the fact the Moradin agrees to part with the hammer as evidence that the teachings of Deanni are true dwarven cannon.
Most dwarves consider Deanni to be a mortal she-dwarf worthy of reverence, but her teachings are just philosophy and not divine.

At the next session (we did some online preparation, role-playing, and investigation) I brought a sealed envelope. Without any prodding from me the players concluded that the townsfolk were ill-equipped to deal with the threat, but that the ceremony must continue. They decided to give away the magic items that they acquired in their travels to the more talented of the townsfolk. Concluding that the presence of Deanni-ken* is no accident. The greatsword of the fallen trumpet archon, the mighty dwarven hammer that turns to a fireball when thrown by a dwarf -- all of these things were given away. This was no small feat for them. They didn't find their first magic item until 7th level. This is a group of 24th level characters who have been playing for over twenty years and have five or six items of magic that have survived with them. Anyways, with almost no direction they decided that the moral of the day was giving stuff away.

On the morning of the swallowtail festival the leader of the Sheild-Keen presented the party with a crate, sealed for many years, with the gifts of Moradin within. The power of the items was linked to the amount of treasure that they gave away as was described in the sealed envelope. No rolling to see how good the treasure was, it was the result of role-playing. They maxed it out. The main warrior of the group now has a +10 Soulblade forged by Moradin as his prime weapon. His senses extend along the weapon at a short distance, giving him tremor-sense if he touches the ground with the blade. The other characters were given +5 dancing bucklers as reward for their involvement with the Iron Fortress. The value of the items was made more poignant because they could have been simple masterwork items if they had not given the townsfolk any aid in preparing for the battle. I had imagined that they would give some aid. I really wasn't ready to give out a +10 weapon. I imagined they would get a +5 weapon and a lesson. I guess I got the lesson. Don't underestimate my players.

I think it was special not only for the power of the items that they received, but also for the way in which they earned them. They can't go anywhere without their gear attracting attention -- you see the sword is a two-handed great-sword. It is the most conspicuous item imaginable. Every craftsmen, smith, engineer, or wizard who sets eyes on the blade knows immediately that it is the paragon of craftsmanship. It has no scabbard.

* Keen is the proper name by which Dwarves refer to themselves. It is a derirvative of the word Kin, meaning family. Interestingly, keen weapons actually mean weapons forged by dwarves. The fact that keen weapons have an extra threat range in D&D 3.x I found funny.

Great stuff here...I'll lay down the story about the tiefling losing his right hand to his own enthusiasm when I have more time (I'm at work right now). This has been nice break reading.

This in particular stood out of all this text:

"and was accepted because he looked like a PC"

So classic.

Enthusiasm is The Mother of Disaster (or, How He Lost His Hand By Being Stupid)

Not only does the tiefling fighter need both hands to fight up to his best ability, but the swords magical properties only function when they are used in concert as a whirling cloud of steel. That's an important fact for this story.

It was a small disc of stone, roughly the size and shape of a hockey puck but made of an unknown red stone. It seemed rather innocuous and the group couldn't figure out why it was locked up in it's own little vault in that place of terribleness. I mean, sure, this whole place had been built to safely store some of the most dangerous magic ever known...but this thing was just too plain seeming to really fit. Everything else they had come across was clearly evil and clearly should not be touched. They wouldn't have even been there opening these vaults in the first place if it wasn't for the fact that they had to find, remove, and hide something very dangerous indeed before it fell into the hands of their enemies...who were also in the system of vaults somewhere doing there best to get into every one of them to find the book they needed.

It should have dawned on the PCs that since even their stupefyingly evil and heartless enemies were leaving all of these things behind and not taking them to increase their power and influence in the world that there must have been *some* good reason for the disc to just be sitting there on it's podium untouched. But...they're PCs, ya dig?

The last thing one should do when holding a completely anonymous and unidentified magical item (an item which is locked in it's own little vault amongst other vaults full of the awfulness of the past...did I mention that?) is *attempt to use it to see what it does*. Jachory, the tiefling, likes to keep things at a high pulse rate as much as possible and it had been a awhile since the last time he got to dip his blades into the flesh of a foe. Maybe that's what motivated him. Afterwards, all he could say was "it seemed like a good idea at the time"...which should be the epitaph on all adventurer's graves.

Having a couple levels of rogue allowed him to awaken it's powers; the thing is that it disintegrates anything it touches once activated. If it can't touch anything within 10 seconds it disintegrates whatever is holding it. A lesson in messing about with evil...the stone disc probably isn't aware of you, and if it is it probably doesn't care about you. These are things meant to be weilded by someone with intent and follow through...not armed tourists looking for some way to pass the time between fights.

By all rights, it should have disintegrated his whole body. I was feeling generous though and thought perhaps the time had come for an object lesson in exactly how bad this place and the things stored within really were. The point was clearly made...and the PCs took it to heart. After this, they didn't even open any more vaults. They chose instead to let their enemies get ahead of them, find the book, and then take it by force after the fact.

When they caught up to their foes however, the planned changed somewhat. There was Chaira, the "innocent kidnapping victim who had been through so much strife", and the enemies were making her carry the book "so that it's taint only affected her and not them until the time of the grand ritual many monthes from now". It became not just a recovery mission, but a rescue attempt as well. The fact that it went way too easily (Chaira had alrady instructed her minions to die so that she could be "rescued" and they gladly threw their lives away for the cause...I love zealots!) seemed to be lost on them as well. She didn't know how she was going to get back across the jungles with this book and what was left of her band anyways, and the PCs seemed the best option to her. Ever the oppurtunist, my girl Chaira. They were very pleased with themselves after all of this.

She still had the book when she was "kidnapped" again later back in civilization. And Jachory still only has his left hand. And they still don't know she's a villain, or that he's a moron. Why a moron you may ask? The rest of the group doesn't know this, but he slipped the disc into his pack when no one was looking..."just in case".

"Just in case *what?!?*" I asked the player of this character over pints the next day.

"I don't know...it seemed like a good idea." was his answer to me.

"...he slipped the disc into his pack when no one was looking...'just in case'"

Leave it to a PC to look at something that has the power to utterly destroy them and everything they know and love and think, "Hey, this might be useful later. I should hang onto this."

Of course, PCs also regularly find opportunities to pull these objects out months down the road when you've entirely forgotten their existence and come up with a use for them that it simultaneously asinine and brilliant. And, of course, they always seem to pull off whatever crazy scheme they had in mind, too.

Such is gaming.

Marvellous - thanks for posting these, Scott (and Gil also, and Tzuriel).

I must admit I have similar experiences with players demonstrating all the mental dexterity of Homer Simpson when it comes to figuring out plot devices. At this moment, the key to the final destruction of one of the party's long-term, 'unkillable' enemies is languishing forgotten in the laboratory of the party wizard, on the shelf marked 'When I Get Around To It'......it's not as if I didn't give them enough clues, either.

Well, jachory is a special case. He's a fantastically violent and deranged tiefling who honestly believes he's a good guy because he hangs out with good guys. He's trying to learn how to be "one of the righteous" and his enthusiasm is to be admired. At one point they were trying to find an elderly scholar in a poor neighborhood because he was the only friend of a convicted serial killer (and the only one that *knew* the man was innocent, could prove it, and thus was important to the PCs). When they came across him he was being stoned and ridiculed by children while the adults of this neighborhood looked on and laughed.

(This killer had terrorized the neighborhood for monthes, was finally caught, and here was this old fool going around saying that his friend was innocent...the locals had to take the piss a bit I guess)

So, being the super-righteous-awesome-good-guy-in-training that he is, Jachory did what any super-righteous-awesome-good-guy would do. He drew back and kicked the closest child in the face as hard as he could. Killing her. Right there on the street in daylight. It took all the intimidate and diplomacy abilities of the other two party members (who are very charismatic) to keep the mob that formed from lynching them. They were acting under the authority of the prince of this city to help him wrap up the last bit of the killer mystery so he could regain the favor of his people and not be deposed in a coup by a malicious rival. Just as they were about to make good their escape in a stanoff with a lynch mob that should be a scene in a John Woo movie (it was that awesome), Jachory says "no no, let me handle this" and whips out the badge of authority the prince gave them.

The prince's soldiers chased them as hard as they could but couldn't catch them. They ran for a full day with trackers on their heals. The assassins the prince hires keep turning up dead in out of the way places. The minor villain from the first 8 or 9 sessions, who later turned into an erstwhile ally against the bigger threat, has now been engaged to take the contract.

On top of that, the climactic action of this campaign (the only thing that's really scripted is a six-of-one-half-a-dozen-of-another endgame where no matter what they do something truly awful happens on the other front) will take place in a city where they should have been flush with allies...and where now there faces adorn wanted posters on every corner.

""Hey, this might be useful later. I should hang onto this.""

Not to mention that it was already in the single most secure location in the entire setting, a place from which it could not have been removed, even by the gods themselves, had they just left it there. A place that was only open because of an accident. A place full of so much evil that no one in their right mind would enter, and that they were only in so they could stop the villains. A place they "rescued" the main villain from, bringing with them the thing she had gone there to retrieve. A place situated in the most dangerous country in the world ruled by the most evil race in the last three ages.

A place they somehow forgot to lock up again when they left because they were so pleased with themselves at how well this had all turned out for them.

I did a whole description for my two adventures in idiocy as a PC, but it didn't post for some reason, so im gonna just do a summative.

In the first adventure, our brand spankin new sorcerer (and spanking new player) got wrecked by two orcs on either side of a small oak door on top of a rickety old tower and a good laugh was had by all. somehow he managed to get first place in the marching order.
in the second adventure, two rogues, myself included, dropped a 3rd level fighter from 53 hp to 3 hp. Something about criticals, sneak attacks, 2d6 each, etc.

the group disbanded after those two incidents due to personal problems between our Dm and one of our players, Girlfriend and Boyfriend at the time. even though it was ny only real group, i've never had as much fun as i did when playing with those two.

Wow, where did everyone crawl out of? :)
Good to see you guys again.

Now now zip...don't post and run. Tell us a story.

Nice to have you back. We're all ears.

Zip! Where have YOU been?

Given that Jachory's player moved to another city until the middle of this coming winter I've started a new campaign to fill the gap until we can get back on track with the other. There's always more stories though...

So Sylrith, a PC in this new campaign, is a physician. Well...it says "Physician" above the door of his business/domicile. He doesn't do that much physicianing. He and the other PC are brokers of information. They exist and subsist on a web and network of favors and threats very loosely strung together on the premise that they are actually important in some way to the grander scheme of events. They're slowly finding out that not only are they not "big fish" but that the real big fish weren't even aware of them...and that was a good thing.

There was a gate guard that thought maybe his wife was cheating on him when he worked nights. There was a thugish racketeer that needed to get something into the city. This was enough to connect, through the PCs, people that otherwise would never have crossed each others paths. When Blaire, the lowly law clerk that was putting it to gate guard's wife, showed up in a panic at the Physician's doorstep one evening no one knew that it would eventually lead to dodgeing the queen's private guard or eventually reshaping the political landscape of the city.

Let me focus that in a bit and tell the funny part.

Miri, the other PC, was complainging about Sylrith's bland cooking as usual. There was more stew left over than Sylrith knew what to do with as Miri normally can finish off anything put in front of her. While she went to do some other PC thing and Sylrith went to investigate the small apartment Blaire lived in a few blocks away where the guard's wife had just been forcefully kidnapped from, Blaire stayed to eat.

But first:

"Is there something I can drink?" Blaire asked, still out of breath.

"There's once cut wine here," Sylrith replied.

"Once cut? Nothing stronger? No whiskey?"

"Under the circumstances I think if I were you I'd take what I was given by strangers that were helping me," Sylrith replied.

"Is there perhaps something to soak in the broth though?"

"Broth?" Sylrith asked, "this is a stew."

"It's awfully thin for stew," Blaire responded, wrinkling his nose.

"Told you so Sylrith...learn to cook," Miri said; then to Blaire as she got up to leave, "I finished the flatbread off, sorry chump."

With a look of disgust and dismay on his face, Blaire turned to look at Sylrith.

"What...no bread?"

Sylrith shook his head and just left, leaving Blaire there to stew about the stew.

Blaire is dead now, a victim of circumstance as many NPCs are. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong guard's wife to sleep with. That sort of thing. But he will live on forever as the inspiration for a one-liner that confuses more than it amuses in polite company that isn't in the know. The players have given up on things like "Are you serious?" or "You must be joking...". "Surely you jest..." is a thing of the past. Even in public, away from the gaming table, they've found more and more ways to use the phrase; the staff at the local are starting to catch on and use it as well.

"What...no bread?"

LOL...this is priceless. Not an in-game story, but a good one nonetheless.

So last night I ran into an old friend on Facebook. I had completely forgotten that this guy even existed. You know how it is, the distance of time can obscure detailsif you don't focus on them to keep them sharp. We start talking about the "old days" and then find out we live in the same city as each other. We duck out of the virtual world (because I don't like it nearly as much as the real one) and meet at my local for a couple pints of the black stuff. As our reminiscences continued, he looks up and asks;

"Hey, are you still playing those roleplaying games?" (he had sat in on a couple sessions waaaay back in high school)

"Oh hell yeah man...I'm running tomorrow night"

"Whatever happened to that character of mine? The one that wanted to be king?"

"He eventually became king..."

"F*&kin rights man, that's badass. "

"Don't get too excited. He was also eventually assassinated"

"Really? Shit. When?"

"Last week..."

He was floored. The notion that something from way back then would still be going on now blew his mind. No no...his mind wasn't blown. It was blasted. I blasted his mind.

Great story, Scott.

At the moment, the thing I am running is very intense, and is eating up all my available RPG time to the point where I just don't have time to chronicle it. The Assault on Monmurg. It's the big climax to the big campaign. A cast of thousands (and about 30 PCs, including henchmen and sidekicks, spread across various locations and events). The conclusion of multiple campaign threads. There are some strong emotions being felt at the game table, which is the big payoff for all the effort I've put into this over the past few years. It's a little scary at times, actually.

I may post a summary here when it's all over. But still a way to go on this - finale probably around Christmas, or maybe sometime early in the new year. Then, a complete change of scale and pace is what I have in mind....

Those big finishes are priceless. Nothing compares. I can only say I've experienced two in mylife to be honest. One very very recently. Only a few weeks ago. It was a long time building up to.

The thing I've just started is, like waht you're going to be doing likely, incredibly different in feel, theme, etc. That feels almost as good as bringing the last thing to an end.

Without going in to too many details and taking up too much space in an off topic way, multigenre but without your average GURPS multigenre feel. Think; Micahel Moorcock's multiverse.

So I'm sitting and having pints with one of my players. I'm trying to explain to him the idea behind this new campaign I'm envisioning. Somewhat like our esteemed lurkinggherkin, my campaigns always involve more than one "campaign" in the traditional defintion of the word, so it wasn't an easy task for this guy who has only played with us for a short period to get his head into.

Come to think of it, it might not be that easy for any of you either. Let me explain. My last campaign spanned many years and many groups of characters. Each individual storyline told the tale of those characters, but the overarcheing campaign itself was more the tale of the setting. Setting itself as campaign, as I've discussed on Gamegrene before. For over ten years I used the setting I had built to weave an intricately overlapped and interlocked story of jealousy and revenge. It was a thing of beauty, but like all things had one day to end. It ended with the last installment of the tale being told in a different world.

And I used the previous setting as the implacable evil force that the main villain was trying to tap into to destroy all of reality. She succeeded. End of story. (of course, it's not that simple...it never is...but I should go into those details elsewhere as not to take away from what is essentially a comical story I'm trying to tell right now).

Suffice to say that having only been there for this last instalment in the epic this player wasn't quite getting what I was trying to explain and the pints weren't helping. It took a long time to explain and so it took a lot of pints to get there. When I got around to explaining why I was starting something new (the previous tale was now told. there was nothing else to add to it) he was receptive but some of the finer points were bouncing off. My other players understand; they will make characters and tell a great story with them, but the broader scope of the story is not focused only on the actions of those characters. Nor is it just "here's a setting. We'll ahve a campaign in it, and then another. Maybe they'll overlap in some areas. You'll see the results of previous characters actions etc". There is more to it than that.

I tried to use the Moorcock example (Eternal Champion) but he hasn't read any Moorcock, so how could that possibly help? I even tried the Star Wars example, explainging how even though there is more than one point of view character throughout the series it is essentially a tale about the changes in the galaxy so that it could be taken into understanding that the Galaxy long ago and far away was actually the main character (don't argue with me on this; I know there are myriad interpretations of the Star Wars epic and I was only using this as a bitters fueled example of what I was trying to explain so leave it at that). This didn't work either because the pints (mine quite bitter, his black & tan) were encourageing us to argue about whether Luke or Anakin was really the "main character" and after an hour of this it was quite clear to me we were no longer talking about a new roleplaying campaign anymore. The four people seated around us at the section of the bar we lovingly refer to as "the corner wood" were now involved in the conversation as well and I couldn't see any way back from the brink we were leaning over.

Just then, an old chap with a long white whispy beard who sits at the end of the wood and drinks stout alone for two hours from 4 to 6 every weekday pipes in to the conversation and says, "weren't you talking about starting some kind of story of your own? Before you got off topic?"

"Um...yes we were," I said laughing as I sat my pint down and wiped foam from my upper lip.

"It sounds to me like you are attempting to enact Campbell's monomyth structure, but replacing the archetypal Hero with the World in an attempt to tell a Milieu based story through a series of smaller Character or Event based chapters."

"Uh...shit. Yes, precisely that," I said.

"Just say that then. And don't be a f*&king stranger from now on. I see you sitting there with your notebook all the time, but I always thought you were writing sad poems or something" and with that he paid for our pints, stowed a thin volume of some kind in his leather haversack while removing a pipe, nodded to us, said "Let me know how your monomyth goes," and walked away.

"Yeah," Jon said to me, "why didn't you just say that to begin with?"

"I didn't know you knew who Campbell was," I replied.

"I don't...but still...now we're arguing about Star Wars with strangers."

"Fair point," I conceded.

The others on the corner wood were now comparing Star Wars to Harry Potter and I realized I was ready to leave the pub as all hopes at an intelligent conversation had just slipped out the backdoor lighting a pipe.

"Hey Jon, let's get out of here before Twilight comes up and we have to fight our way to the door."

"Good idea," Jon agreed.

"Hey Jon..."

"Yeah Scott?"

"I think I was just given a quest at a tavern by a wizard"

"Hey Jon..."

"Yeah Scott?"

"I think I was just given a quest at a tavern by a wizard"

SWEET.

Good luck with the next Monomyth. Let us know how it goes, eh.

THAT is an excellent story, Scott. Sounds like a very rare experience indeed.

Being the relative newcomer, I don't have much to share, but I was quite pleased with myself when the campaign I'm currently running became household talk between the players and I - something that has never happened before in the campaigns I ran previous. Clearly the new group change and newfound advice from here is working quite well. I'm looking forward to see what kind of interactions I'll get from them during the campaign...hopefully something worth sharing will come up.

I've had another conversation with the bearded fellow, who it turns out is named Jasper. We're regulars at the same pub so now that we've spoken it won't be the last either. I can't quote him word for word of course, but I've tried to remember as best I can the things he said. The cut of his jib is unbelievable. He has this swagger that I don't know for sure comes across in text.

After learning his name I told him my father's middle name is Garnet and that by coincidence there are a lot of people in my family who have middle names that are gemstones.

"Oh yeah? And what's your middle name?" he asked me.

"Christopher."

"That's not a gemstone. I've never heard of someone striking a vein of Christopher," he replied, "but still, I'd rather be named after a saint than a rock anyways. I'm named after Jasper national park because my dad once knocked up a chinese broad there and then left to work on the railway. He never saw her again or met the kid so he named me after the place where it happened."

"That's a hell of a story Jasper," I said, laughing around the mouth of my pint, "how much of it is true?"

"All of it. I'm not a drunk old man at the pub, I'm an actor playing a drunk old man at the pub. So you can assume anything I say is fact."

We talked about things that I barely understood for about half an hour in a meandering way that would be hard to type for reading by outside parties. I couldn't help but think that this is exactly what having a conversation with a wizard would probably be like. He had knowledge of things that he only hinted at and changed the subject everytime he was in a position to have to clarify a point or back up a piece of information. I was reminded looseley of Lao Tzu and the Tao; to say a thing is this is to say it is not that. There was an almost Zenlike perfection to this man's intricate sphere of bullshit that was very charming and disarming. An honest liar is one of the best conversationalists you can ever meet.

Eventually, I moved the conversation to the grounds it had been skirting when I spoke to him the first time.

"You've been sitting here all this time I've been a regular at this pub and I can't believe we've never had a conversation about story structure. It's a topic I find fascinating," I said to Jasper.

"That's your problem, not mine," he said, "I know all there is to know about it so I'm not missing a thing."

"What makes you such an expert on storytelling?" I asked him.

"Apart from the obvious?" he asked while tugging his wispy beard. I wasn't sure if he was referring to his obvious bullshit abilities while absent mindedly yanking his scruff, or if he was literally acreditting his superior knowledge to his facial hair.

"Yes, apart from the obvious," I said with a grin.

"Look...there's nothing funny or smirk-worthy about storytelling so lose the grin. If you want to get into this...I mean *really get into this* then you have to drop the attitude. I heard you talking; you think you're really something when it comes to telling a story but I can tell you're just a hack with a good clean streak of easy audiences."

I just raised my eyebrows and ordered another round for us both. With someone else paying he switched to a more expensive pint and continued without missing a beat.

"A storyteller is only as good as his audience, which is why children are the best and cynical adults are the worst. One makes you up the ante constantly and can spot an inconsistency from around the corner. The latter sits there all banal and arrogant and halfwitted because they think they've heard it all and so they don't really listen. Whatever this roleplaying is you do I'm willing to put good cash on the fact that you put more detail and thought into it now than you ever did when you were young and yet you feel from time to time that the payoff is getting smaller."

"True...from time to time."

"F*&k that...all the time," he corrected me. What he was saying felt true even though I wanted argue with him about it to prove to myself that my campaigns were good and were only getting better with time.

"When you were younger, you told stories without too much detail because you didn't need it. Now that you're older you put more and more detail and supposed realism into it to pat yourself on the back. You didn't need it when you were younger, and you think this is because you're mature now and can handle more things. In truth it's because you were a better storyteller then than you are now, and your audience was better at building their own background and costumes. They only absorb as much now as they did then, so you're doing all ther est of it for yourself and yourself only. As people get older you need to change *what* those absorbable details are...but only a hack adds more and thinks it's good."

He was bugging me now, but I think that it was only because at the time I didn't want to hear what he was saying. Like someone hearing about how their girlfriend was cheating; they knew it was true but had denied it and now that the truth was caving in on them they couldn't escape it.

"So you need to cut the bullshit and stop trying to tell *your* story and tell the *audience's* story. Let them have most of it. Hint at things. If there's a house say it's a house. If it's an old house, say it's old. Leave it at that. No one gives a shit what colour the paint is or where it's peeling more than anywhere else. A good audience will build that house themselves, then run it down over the years; and they'll do it in the time it takes you to say 'old run down house'."

"I've been switching more to that style over the last years," I said, trying to redeem myself in his eyes (secretly knowing it was my own eyes I was worrying about), "you're not really blowing my mind here Jasper."

"That's because you're pretending that you recently learned things that you're actually just remembering and you don't want to admit that you forgot them in the first place. 90% of everything is shit, that's a fact. You aren't special and seperate from that fact."

"So what then?" I asked, "keep doing what I'm doing? That's not the best advice I've ever received"

"You're not listening because you want to be right. More accurately, you don't want *me* to be right about *you*. You're at that stage where you're clearly an adult and you've learned and you've changed and you've grown...you're done now. I'm seventy-nine and I did stupid shit yesterday, so think about that for a second. The only difference between you and I is that I know I don't know everything, while you hope that someday you will."

"I want stories that are more than just kids stories though," I said, "I want to tell bigger stories than that, that deal with more mature issues."

"That isn't what I'm talking about," Jasper said with obvious disdain, "I'm not talking about content I'm talking about engagement."

"So...delivery to achieve engagement?" I asked

"You sound like a literature professor," he spat, "some guy that's *read* a lot of books and so thinks he's somehow qualified to talk about how to *write* books. No, I'm not talking about 'delivery to achieve engagement', I'm talking about telling a f*&king story and getting people to fall for it. I mean really *be there*."

I could tell I was annoying him, but I could also tell he was enjoying the annoyance for some reason. I nursed my pint and thought not just about what he was saying, but why I wanted to just dismiss it outright in favour of all the "things" I had learned and picked up along the way.

"Did you ever have a pet?" he asked after a couple moments of comfortable silence between us which he used to pack his pipe with tobacco.

"Yes," I answered.

"Have you ever had a pet die when you were a kid?"

"Yes."

"How did you feel?"

"Terrible, it felt like the worst thing ever."

"What's upset you recently?" Jasper asked, his tone softer now. More inquisitive and less accusatory or confrontational.

"A few things," I said.

"Has anything ever come close to the first time you felt loss? The first time your heartbroke?"

I thought about it and swished my bitter around in the glass. He was right. I saw where he was going and he was right.

"You see what I'm saying then, I can tell you've had some kind of pseudointellectual breakthrough and you're trying to reconcile it with what you already know so you don't have to admit I'm right. A good storyteller isn't arrogant about his story or about his skill or about his audience or about his subject matter or about his delivery. A good storyteller tells children's stories to little kids, figuratively speaking. Not everyone has lost a wife and you'll get lost trying to tell them how to feel. Better to just let them feel how they want, or guide them there and let them feel it themselves. You don't tell a story about a man who lost his wife and try to get the people reading or hearing it to remember how they felt when they lost their wife too; and only the most arrogant of pricks tries to do this in a story by explaining how *they* felt when *they* lost their own wife. They tell a story about a man who loses his wife and they make the audience remember how it felt when they lost their first dog."

"Have you ever lost a pet?" I asked him.

"Of course I have, I'm seventy-nine years old."

"What about a wife?" I asked.

"Cancer. I was 33. It was bad, but the dog when I was 8 was worse."

"Hey, *I'm* 33 and *I* lost a dog when I was 8," I said to Jasper.

"Well, maybe I'm you from the future. Thanks for the pint," and he just walked off.

See, Jasper's a regular at my local...so it's not going to be that rare Eruantien. He's just one of those people that you see fairly often but never speak to because you're you and they're them and humans can't know everyone. I've sat within arm's reach of this guy dozens if not hundreds of times in the last 7 years I've been a regular since moving into the neighborhood and never once have we done more than make eye contact. If I'm doing magic there, he doesn't even look on like most nearby people do.

Anyways, he's weird. And deep. And he can bury a pint of stout in superhuman fashion.

That's a great conversation. I wish I could be there, it seems so...zen, as you said.

Anyways, I do have something short that I found quite amusing in our last session:

I decided for whatever reason to do a dungeon crawl for our session, and while the end reward was plot significant, I had no idea why I chose a dungeon crawl initially. After the events though, I didn't regret it one bit. Anyways, the party (consisting of a bard, blood mage, necromancer, rogue, cleric, and warlock) had ended up exploring a ruined city, and discovered the entrance to the underground tunnels that were connected to one another beneath the city. After much exploring and trap dodging and sporadic undead fighting, they picked up these three gems that they deduced had some purpose and magical value. However, a riddle was placed on one of these gems, so there was much debate on what the riddle meant exactly, what the answer was, and so forth.

Well finally they reached a rather impressive stone slab of a door with three indents upon it and another riddle. This immediately sparked yet another discussion of how to proceed. After 30 minutes of stewing themselves up into a frustrated fervor as I sat quietly by, they appealed to me for help. With a smile and a shake of my head, I refused them and they returned to another 15 minutes of debate. Finally, the thief pipes up and claims "Alright. Enough arguing. I'm going to go with the simplest solution and just place the gems into the indents. What happens?"

I proceed to describe the scene as, "The gems begin to swap places, rather rapidly. Eventually they are a blur to your eyes, but they do seem to be settling into a pattern. Perhaps you should try taking them back in that order. Feeling lucky?"

The looks of frustrated animosity simultaneously directed at the rogue at that point was priceless.

I love moments like that; analysis paralysis has frozen the group into inaction and the first person with an idea gets the blame when it goes wrong even though they would have all gone Rip van Winkle in that tunnel if left to their own designs.

"A good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite point in the future. Now let's go blow up some Nazis so we can go to Japan before the marines get all the credit over there."
-General George S. Patton

(after seeing who the quote is credited to, you read it again in George C. Scott's voice, ddin't you? thought so)

LOL...Jasper got banned from the pub for insisting he be allowed to smoke inside, being told more than once he couldn't, then lighting his pipe anyways while telling the bartender (who has worked there for a decade and a half and she basically runs the place) "try to stop me with that fat ass of yours...I had a horse like you once and he learned too".

Crankyass wizards. [shakes head]

Even more funny...Jasper is now allowed back in the pub but he won't talk to me anymore. He saw me performing there one night and he "doesn't trust magicians...." :S

Just tell him that's OK, you don't trust time-travellers.

I actually asked him if it was one of those "sorcerer vs. wizard things" and he called me a tosser.